Alan Sharpe is a direct response copywriter who publishes a newsletter called Sharpe & Direct. It's packed with tips for those looking to improve their sales letter copy and response rates. Although I don't write direct response sales letters myself, I generally find it to be a valuable read. After all, in a certain sense, a B2C or B2B website can be thought of as a direct response sales letter, too.

The main article in a recent edition of his newsletter was Write Your Direct Mail Sales Letters Like a Page on Google to Boost Response, Results and Business. As someone involved in search marketing, the word "Google" in the title alone was enough to catch my attention. (That's bordering on pathetic, isn't it? At least, that's what some of my friends tell me...)

Now that I've read the article, I think the advice presented is right on the money — and not just for people writing paper-based direct sales letters to go out in the mail.

Here's one quote that really attracted my attention:

"You don't demonstrate relevance by promoting your brand. You demonstrate relevance by showing prospects that you understand their problem. And you do that by talking about their problem in the same language that they use."

Ya know, too often, I notice site owners seem to focus inward when it comes to writing their web copy. They pepper their text with the technical terminology and jargon they employ within their own company, regardless of whether those are the phrases real people — their potential customers — use out there in the real world to describe their products or services.

For me, as one of those potential customers, not only is it boring, half the time I have no idea what they're even talking about. Not a good situation if they're trying to sell me something.

Whether you're tackling your own optimization, or you've hired an outside expert to optimize your site, the first step in the process must be to research what phrases your potential clients or customers use when looking for the products or services you offer.

By the way, simply coming up with a list of words out of your own head does not constitute "keyword analysis." Sure, such a list can be a good first step, but it shouldn't be your only step.

For those of you who are keen to do it yourself, the article outlines a simple second step you can take to begin validating your list, using Google's own search results. I strongly recommend you also consider signing up for services such as WordTracker or Trellian's KeywordDiscovery to help you further refine your list and locate even more additional search terms you might have overlooked.

If you'd rather outsource, any Search Engine Optimization firm worth their fees will be able to help you with keyword research and analysis — and at a much more sophtisticated level than the very basic technique outlined in the Sharpe & Direct article.

But the core truth is — whether you do it yourself or hire an SEO, no matter what specific techniques and resources you or they use — the foundation of any effective search optimization campaign is keyword research and analysis.

Once you know what phrases your potential customers use, use those words and phrases in place of your own internal jargon in your page title tags, your page headers, your on-page copy, the anchor text of your internal linking and (if possible) the anchor text of links from other domains and sites. Demonstrate you understand your prospects and their problems by speaking their language throughout your site.

When you do, they'll be more inclined to turn to you for the solution, by purchasing your product or signing up for your service. And of course, ultimately it's sales — not rankings or traffic — that's the hallmark of a truly successful website.

Discuss this post in the Small Business Ideas forum.

April 11, 2007

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